cartoonish facial features unquestionably connoted a machine. More recent robots like Shakey, Genghis, and Cog are even less prepossess- ing as human stand-ins, and indeed were not created with that aim in mind.As special-purpose or test units, there was no advantage in mak- ing them humanlike.They are instead bare assemblages of wheels or legs, motors, girders, sensors and computer processors arranged for engineering convenience or to provide specific physical abilities.
In the 80 years that electrical and electronic robots have existed, we have yet to create an autonomous, human-seeming android like those that appear in the virtual history of artificial beings. But the introduction of robotics technology to the entertainment industry has brought us some way toward natural-looking artificial creatures, in the development of so-called animatronic figures.The Walt Disney Corporation introduced these three-dimensional entertainment ro- bots in human and animal form at Disneyland in 1963, and showed them at the NewYork World’s Fair in 1964.The first was a tap-danc- ing simulacrum of the dancer and actor Buddy Ebsen. Others in- cluded Abraham Lincoln standing, speaking, and gesturing, a dinosaur diorama, and the exhibit, The orld of omorrow.
The original animatronic robots, and current versions that appear in films, are not autonomous. They operate under remote control from human operators or, like an industrial robot, perform an unvary- ing computer-controlled sequence of actions. But they show how far we have come in producing artificial beings that look convincingly natural.Their development has required new styles of engineering to avoid making awkward clankers. Nick Maley, who has worked on varied animatronic “creature effects” including the character Yoda in the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back notes subtle differences between standard methods and what is effective in replicating living beings. Engineers constructing mechanical beings, he says, tend to use
strong materials to build robust mechanisms based upon the same tried and tested mechanical principles that create cars and trains. . . . However, nature’s creations don’t use the same mechanical principles. . . .Their joints are less precise, their connections less rigid. . . .Their existence is usually a delicate balance of strength and weight developed to suit specific circum- stances.